Last month we reported that researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bishop Museum had officially described a new species of butterflyfish found in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument‘s deep coral reefs. Researchers are only now studying these reefs in real detail, and now researchers have discovered more wonders in the deep reefs off Maui.
“This extensive study of the Hawaiian deep coral reefs, known as mesophotic coral ecosystems, led to some incredible finds published recently in the scientific journal PeerJ,” stated a NOAA news release sent out on Oct. 4. “These mesophotic coral ecosystems, the deepest of the light-dependent coral reef communities found between 100 and 500 feet below the ocean’s surface, lie well beyond the limits of conventional scuba diving and are among the most poorly explored marine habitats on Earth. Scientists used a combination of submersibles, remotely operated vehicles, and technical diving to study these difficult-to-reach environments.”
According to the news release, 43 percent of the fish species found on mesophotic reefs are “unique to the Hawaiian islands”–more than twice that found on shallow reefs here. Maui waters seem to hold special wonders, according to researchers.
“In Maui’s ʻAu‘au Channel, scientists discovered the largest uninterrupted mesophotic coral ecosystem ever recorded, extending more than three square miles at approximately 160 to 300 feet deep and including areas of 100 percent coral cover,” stated the news release.
Here’s Bishop Museum researcher Richard Pyle, who was also the lead author on the study:
The waters off Maui present the perfect environment for these mesophotic reefs to exist. The area combines clear water, which allows light to reach the corals; good water flow enhancing food availability; shelter from major north and south swells, and a submerged terrace between the islands at the right depth.
These findings are of immense importance to researchers, given the myriad of problems facing coral (and the ocean as a whole) these days.
“With coral reefs facing a myriad of threats, these findings are important for understanding, managing and protecting coral-reef habitat and the organisms that live on them,” said Kimberly Puglise, an oceanographer with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, in the news release. “Some species studied can live in both shallow and mesophotic reefs, and the species could potentially replenish each other if one population is overexploited.”
Photo of Mesophotic coral ecosystems found 230 feet down in Maui’s ‘Au`au Channel courtesy NOAA and Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory